Retired news anchor and weatherman Derry Bird died Friday at the age of 86. Please allow me to tell you about my friend.
I remember Derry coming through my tv in the early 70's. I can still see those long sideburns and his calm, steady reporting on WDAU during the Agnes flood.
Derry reported and anchored here for around 30 years. I have great respect for people like Derry, along with the great Debbie Dunleavy, Kent Westling and several others, on and off camera. They kept WDAU going during the difficult late 70's and 80's, when the owners allowed the station to fall in to disrepair. The competition passed the old channel 22 and never looked back.
Even though I spent most of the 80's on the road for WARM, I didn't meet Derry until I hooked on at WYOU in 1990. I am always cautious when meeting people I admired on TV. You hope they are as nice as they seem. I worried for nothing. Derry was the real deal-- kind and professional on TV, and just as nice in person.
Derry did the weather on the first newscast I ever anchored. I remember taking off my jacket when the broadcast ended. There was more sweat than dress shirt. It would have been worse if I didn't have Derry at my side. He was such a calming influence, and it was nice someone just feet away had my back.
It was much the same way during the flooding of January 1996. We were short on people on a Saturday morning. I wound up on the anchor desk. Part of my duties were a 2.5 hour live and unscripted newscast. People like producer Eileen Kennedy made it work. There was major help from reporters David DeCosmo and Melissa Becker Sgroi. Derry was on the newsroom set with me, giving the forecast and the river levels. There was ample time to talk about the weather, the environment and what appeared to be our increasingly flood prone area. It was my favorite part of the morning-- just two broadcasting vets talking about what we observed. Derry did it in that warm and conversational style that he mastered. I don't think it was a deliberate effort. That's just the way Derry was.
After a tumultuous couple of years on my end, I produced the WYOU morning news for eleven months in 1997 and 1998. While I produced here and there in previous years, this was my first full time producing assignment. To say the least, it was a rough time. I was still finding my way around. New management made resources lean. Derry walked in one morning to see me sitting at my keyboard, disheartened, dejected, and struggling. He put his hand on my shoulder and uttered the words I'll never forget. Derry said "Relax. You're among friends."
I remember Derry being very patient when I screwed up my copy. The name of the newscast changed to "This Morning" from "Daybreak." Old habits die hard. I tripped up Derry a few times by writing "Daybreak." Eventually, I figured it out.
There were times I got playful when writing a script. Derry didn't like that. He'd print it out and walk over to my desk. As he handed me the paper, Derry would ask "Would Cronkite say it that way?" I'd always change it. I don't want an anchor uncomfortable with the copy. I liked Derry. More importantly, I respected Derry.
I believed I took good care of that broadcast and gave it the stability it needed. Derry was a great guy to bang out a newscast with. When channels 22 and 28 merged, I was told my services were no longer required, that my position wasn't being funded, whatever that means. My lawyer got a good laugh out of that one. It was a very creative dismissal.
I ran in to him a few years after I moved to WNEP. Derry said he could always recognize a newscast I produced by the crisp writing and the high story count. It was one of the nicest compliments I ever received. He got it.
I last saw Derry a few years ago. He and his lovely wife Nancy were at a Memorial Day observance in Dalton. We chatted briefly. I was on a deadline and had to scoot, but not before saying that I left in a rush in 1998, and I never said "thank you." Derry asked "For what?" I replied "Everything."
I meant it then. I mean it now. Derry, thank you for everything.